#GivingUp4Lent: Day 40 (The Relational Shift)

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Hey friends, before we turn to this week’s shift, I wanted to let you know that next Thursday, I’ll disclose one final super secret shift, and the following week I will wrap up this #GivingUp4Lent project with some closing thoughts.

That being said, I am excited to talk about the final shift in progressive Christian thought and praxis: the relational shift. It is a:

Social shift away from a tribalistic divisivism, and toward a mutualistic identity of benevolence.

The stimulus behind this shift is a social one. The kind of Christianity I am talking about here is not solely one that learns how to play nicely together (which by the way, I think is true, we need to grow up a bit here), but one whose core ethos is seen and experienced as interconnected. It is a shift away from thinking of Christian identity as a means to divide, separate, and disengage from a pluralistic world. Some forms of Christianity would say, “But we aren’t disengaged, we are out to conquest and convert the world, for Christ’s sake! Everyone needs to get in on this goodness!” And while this line of thinking may be well-intentioned, it is apparent that many of us simply do not understand what it means to love and bless the Other in their unique identity on behalf of our own tradition. This is a shift from seeing our religion as a means to compete and dominate other religions, to seeing our religion as a means to be in relationship with, love, and bless all the others.

What I am talking about here is a transition from owning our location as Christians as a means to set ourselves

above,

apart,

aside from,

or against, the rest of the world,

and rather to a full immersion into the interconnectedness and blessing of all things…which includes all people.

It is a transition toward understanding our Christian location within the global spectrum of religion as one that has a unique particularity to it, but it is also one that proclaims universal acceptance and charity not in opposition to the Christian gospel, but rather, directly on its behalf. We must allow our worldview to become unitive in the sense that we can now see our entire existence as relational at its core, and all of humanity as our sisters and brothers. 

The past two shifts I have mentioned, both the theopoetic shift, and the embodied shift, are shifts which can be misinterpreted as shifts simply in terms of thinking, or of internal tweaks. However, they cannot remain solely cerebral. The thrust of this holistic internal transformation must have a teleology, or a direction to it. It also has to be a shift in praxis as it is an internalization that moves to outward action in love on behalf of the world.

I like Tom Oord’s (#supporttomoord) definition of love in his book, The Nature of Love: A Theology, and it will work for our purposes here:

“To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.” p. 17

Check the beginning of this definition: “to love is to act.” To love is not merely to contemplate, reason, or speak, but it is an action. Notice also that it does not say, “to love is to evangelize,” nor does it say, “to love is to convert.” To love is not to Christianize the world. To love is not to make it uniform to some Christian formula for salvation. To love, rather, is to act intentionally to heal the world in the name of Christ. Or, in other words, to recognize that how we act in this world matters in a relational sense. How we live and what we do has real, actual effects on not only the people around us, but also those across the globe, and even the Earth itself.

Or on the flipside…how we have been acting is what is causing the poverty of both people and planet.

This is an issue of justice, which is always social…so we maybe don’t need to add it to the front of the term. This is an issue of how we listen to, consider, and integrate the cries and perspectives of others unlike ourselves and let them critique and transform our own experiences and worldviews. We have got to start seeing this global shift in heterogeneous experience and opinion as a gift that can open us up to even more beauty, rather than a threat to our Christian identity. Renowned theologian and ecologist John B. Cobb Jr. is famous for saying,

“To see the world with ecological relations at its core means never to see it in the same way again.”

This revision in our thinking is the necessary product of the thrust of Christian teaching. Ecology is not solely about the environment, although it absolutely includes creation care. It is about how organisms relate to one another, which includes person to person! And, the implications of this run all the way down. In uniquely Christian terms, the New Testament shift in thinking is one that sees the temple (the place imbued with the presence of the divine) changed from one specific physical location as an edifice, to the human life and the earth being locations that are full of divine presence. The earth is actually the sanctuary, and everything in it. We need not gloss over what this means for our advocacy for the protection of the environment (maybe I can address that more fully in some subsequent posts), but we must also not miss what this means for us as a human species. This “relational core” is what will cause us to change our attitudes and practices from ones that homogenize everything, to ones that become considerate of those not only in the other Great Traditions, but especially to those on the margins of them, and those outside their bounds as well.

This shift allows us to work together in mutuality for the betterment of the entire world. It is not a religion-contest. Neither is it a surfacey form of pluralism. It is rather what process theologians have called a “deep religious pluralism.” It is about owning our unique identities in a way that learns to exist in reciprocal philanthropic relationality with other traditions, and likewise those who self-identify as post-religious. Here is exactly what I mean by this:

Philip Clayton makes an important distinction in this Homebrewed podcast at about 20:35:

“Maybe it’s impossible to be religious pluralists. Maybe we are inherently tribal. Maybe it’s in our genes back to those thousands and thousands of generations that evolved on the African Sahara that we form groups of 100-150 people… the experts say that religion is about tribalism and tribalism is about division. Maybe we have to own the impossibility of this conversation… the impossibility of ‘a religion’ that actually claims to fuse over that distinction to reach out toward others… What if we own within ourselves that drive to draw distinction?

…Christology is what? It’s a tool to divide. You’re in or you’re out. You’re too high or too low. Wherever you are, there are micrometers, you’re a little too high or a little too low in your Christology. What if we owned the impossibility of this very discussion at the outset? The discussion of really branching out across.”

What he is hitting at here is that it’s impossible to be merely a pluralist. It’s also possible to misuse the purpose of good things like having a Christology, or, having something to say about who Jesus is. Effective pluralism is not a relativizing and universalizing of all religions to be different ways to hit at the same core truth. It is also not a dismissal of all religions as “incorrect.” It is an affirmation of the human experience by which we make meaning of our lives through stories, symbols, and sacraments in all of their various forms. Each of them unique, and each beautiful, including the Christian one. In this pluralistic, or rather, multiplicitous, environment, we have the added benefit of getting to contribute to one another’s success, rather than compete with one another.

So, how do we get away from dismissing religions altogether? Or from thinking that they all lead up the same mountain and thus lead into relativizing them all, stripping them of their uniqueness? And what can we claim about Christ that has any sort of merit or specificity when there are so many other options?

Clayton responds to that question by answering:

“The easy thing would be to say, ‘all the religious people are wrong.’ All their doctrines are just their own cultural expressions, and they’re all pointing toward something they can’t grasp…The only trouble with that is you’ve just simply told every religious person in the world that they’re all full of it; they’re all basically completely deluded.”

Instead, he posits this idea:

“Deep religious pluralism. So, let’s be pluralists. Let’s admit that ‘I don’t have the full corner on the market,’ but let’s say that each person has a grasp of the truth in a different way. John Cobb made the radical claim that there are multiple religious Ultimates:

‘It’s really true that the Ultimate is personal.’ -Abrahamic traditions

‘It’s really true that the Ultimate is the ground of all things.’ -Hindu traditions

‘It’s really true that the Ultimate is the interconnection of all things.’ -Buddhist traditions

Now is that the answer? Or is that one more takeover bid disguised as humility?

The goal is to learn to own our unique faith locations, and not allow them to be a means to take over the world, but rather a means toward interdependence and action for justice on behalf of and with one another. In many ways, this shift is a plea for peace. The easy thing to do is to participate in our Christianity in ways that make it all about us. It’s all about “me” and “my relationship” with Jesus. This type of thinking can cause us to believe that we’re in on something so personal that we come to believe that it has to be true for everyone else in the world, which, in turn, demonizes the rest of the options. This is why many Christians will say things like, “Muslims are evil,” or Hinduism is demonic,” or “Buddhism is of the devil!”

Ever heard anything like that before?

Ever know a Buddhist who is an O.K. dude? Whoops.

What I am advocating for is a turn towards the affirmation of humanity in all its plurality, not only for the sake of its own inherent worth, which is very true, but also if you self-identify as a Christian, in the very name of Christ! Especially imbedded within our own tradition of Christianity is a universal acceptance that all people are made in the image of God, which includes their own experiences and traditions. It starts right there in Genesis 1, and continues as an idee fixé throughout the rest of the Bible as well: all things are beloved by God. The gospel is actually a means to break down the ways in which we build up various forms of division. I am not the first to think this. Read some Paul.

Richard Rohr mentioned recently at a gathering I attended that:

“The Cosmic Christ is a positive declaration of the nature of the universe. In the Christ proclaimed in the hymns in John 1, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, and 1 John 1, we see that the Christ is the universal mystery of matter and spirit. It is a cosmic – human revelation. Christianity was never supposed to be a competing religion, but rather a universal message of love, nonviolence, and acceptance in the name of Christ that we all could learn from.”

Let’s recap where we’ve come here. The Christian relational shift is a shift:

1. Away from a religious identity that becomes a means to divide or conquest.

2. Toward actions of love on behalf of both others and the planet, exempt from exclusions.

3. Toward learning to embrace a unique and particular Christian identity that participates in a deep pluralism, building relationships with and learning from those who are not like us.

The last thing I’d like to mention here is that this perspective shift should cause us to learn to break down all barriers: racial, religious, class, or otherwise, for the sake of healing the world together. It may seem paradoxical at first to imbed oneself in a tradition that professes specific allegiance to Christ, but seeks to affirm a pluralistic world, even those who find themselves working for the common good from a post-theistic location. We too must learn to adapt, mature, and change for the sake of those on the fringe who desperately need inclusion. The rise over the past 100 years or so of feminist, liberation, queer, and eco, etc. theological critiques have done us the service of teaching us a valuable lesson:

We white guys don’t have this market cornered. Not even close.

And…exhale. It’s going to be O.K.

The more we as Christians can champion the voices of those who are excluded by the power structures we have participated in and continue to create, the more robust our collective faith will become. This is the way forward. This is the faith of the future. Get on the bus quickly, I pray you. We have got to do the work in-house of knocking down walls to ensure that together we might become better listeners and practitioners. We have also got to allow ourselves to be immersed in the humility and hospitality that comes from truly affirming and blessing others in the locations in which they have made their homes.

Besides, Christian identity is formed in part in its relationship to others within the salvific community anyways. I personally hope that salvation continues to lose the “personal” from its front-end. It is already inherently relational, inherently universal. If we hold to any kind of Trinitarianism at all, we understand that this whole dance is a correlative one anyways.

What if rather than “evangelize,” which is a word loaded with hidden agendas of conversion, we “witnessed,” or let our lives tell the Christian story of the relational and universal worth of all things? I for one, insist we move that direction.

I’ll leave you with this thought by Philip Clayton:

“Owning a deep place of religious location will inevitably have its hands mired in paradox. Pluralism, and I’m located? Christology, but I’m not using it to exclude, which means it’s not a single? And yet, I have to mean something when I say Jesus Christ…that it is a location. A location for prayer, action, justice. Can I find the courage to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I have something to learn from all those other traditions?

We can only live that. It’s not a mental location, it’s a way of being in the world.”

I tend to agree with Phil here…and, yes I’ve heard John 14:6 before!

#GivingUp4Lent: Day 39 (The Lived Shift)

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Although I am technically finished with my #GivingUp4Lent project because, well…Easter, I will still be fleshing out some final thoughts over the next couple of weeks in virtual form to wrap-up this past season of reflection. That’ll look like: 2 more shifts (1 more after today) as well as an extra special bonus shift, and then a final summary of my overall reflections from the project as a whole.

Today, we get to tackle a very important movement:

The practical, “or lived,” shift away from a dualistic moralism, and toward a holistically sacred humanism.

This is a movement away from binaries, and toward a univite consciousness.

It is a movement away from a focus on “afterlife,” and toward the significance of “this life.”

It is a movement toward full embodiment, toward embracing the entire spectrum of human emotion and experience of both beauty and suffering.

It is a movement away from the “most moral” being the “most Christian,” and it is a movement toward the “most human” or “most in-love” with aliveness, these people, and this planet, being the “most Christian” idea. Admittedly, I don’t like the idea of “most Christian” in general, I’m just employing it here because it is helpful to say what needs to be said.

Let me start by putting something frankly:

If our practice of Christianity does not open us up to a deeper sense of love, awe, and wonder for this vastly complex life, as well as give us the freedom to release our clasp on control and certainty, we should run away as fast as we can.

As Christians, we need to be able to concede at the outset (with the rest of humanity) that this life, our existence, our consciousness, our loves, and our ensuing death are tender mysteries. They’re all about a million miles deep and about a centimeter wide. They’re not things we can come to “know” in the propositional sense. We will not reach their bottoms and behold their truths as we might wish.

And yet, life’s great mysteries are muses that can romance us. We do have the ability to attune ourselves to what is going on within their vastness. There are ways to stare down their depths and somehow enter into that which is beyond our comprehension, and yet as near as our heartbeat. In short, there are ways to contemplate them that actually open us up to their breadth of experience, and more importantly, to Love. This is the lens that we are often given by poets, artists, philosophers, and sometimes even certain kinds of theologians, who intoxicate us with their beautifully communicated fascination with the grandness of existence. Some call it God. Some mystery. Some wonder.

Sadly, there are also ways to improperly engage the great mysteries, wherein we try to grab ahold of them, systematize them, create codes and creeds about them, attempting to make them safe. I’m not saying that particulars and proclamations, witness, and sometimes even systems, aren’t crucial ways to talk about what’s going on in these spaces, but I am saying that placing such wildly untameable realities in boxes can be one of the most harmful things we can do for one another…primarily because it often causes us to have to disavow the lives that we actually live, for ones that we are told fit more properly into “God’s” system. It thus keeps us from being able to truly become whole, because our lives are chalked full of all kinds of experiences that clearly do not compute with our best attempts at systems, frames, praxes, and safety.

In other words, when we have to divorce ourselves from experiences we know to be true deep in our bones because of something someone told us we were supposed to believe, a red flag should go up. Way up!

This, in part, is why LGBT people who seek religious counseling are more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT people who seek non-religious counseling, with some studies showing suicide attempts as much as 8x more likely from families who have rejected their LGBT children for whatever cause. Because in the sort of system we have set-up, we force people into believing a Gay=Bad, Straight=Good paradigm, so when the visceral embodiment of an LGBT person’s sexuality comes into its maturity, it creates an internal conflict that often causes disastrous results. What kind of religion is that?

One of the travesties of the past century of Christian spirituality is that we’ve inherited a system that has a thread running through it that may not proclaim, but certainly operates under the assumption that, we are to hide from brokenness on behalf of wholeness. There is a dualism to that system. In that equation, Morality = Blessing, or Pain = Bad, Health = Good. To which I say…oh hey Job. What’s worse, is that we’ve been feeding this to our kids as well, especially adolescents who are told: Desires = Bad, Repression of Sin = Good. I don’t even need to get into how stupid the psychological repercussions of this line of thinking are, developmentally.

The only problem with it, is of course, everything. We are doing them the disservice of keeping them from maturing.

Richard Rohr mentions in Falling Upward that:

“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it.” pg. xxii

I cannot state how crucial it is for us to understand this shift in thinking when it comes to our own practice of faith…because we can’t be truly alive with all that will be thrown at us and keep up the apparition that everything is alright. We need to learn that failure is part of the whole thing. As my friend Tripp says, morality is an accidental development of our process of growth and our attunement to love. It’s not something we can force. When we are told that a perfect moral response will get us where we are wanting to go in the human endeavor, we need to call bullshit. This is especially true when we are assured of not only happiness in this life (praise Jesus), but also everlasting life as well, or rather life that extends forever beyond death.

The misinterpretation of eternal life (as opposed to Jesus’ definition seen in John 17:3) as something that happens after we die has created all kinds of problems for the Western Christian’s practical theology. Surely it can be linked here to a praxis of faith which is about getting somewhere else other than here, hoping for a different body than this one, and waiting to be free after we die, rather than before. Perhaps Albert Camus critiques this idea best in his essay, Summer in Algiers:

“For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” pg. 153

This jives so much with the Christian tradition, it’s mind-blowing how we can miss the wisdom of an absurdist like Camus. What I am of course referencing here is the move within Christianity that we often call the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Or, more plainly said, that God showed up fully in Jesus, or that the very stuff of divine life shows up most fully at the most-human level, in all its grandeur…and even its tragedy. If we can learn to make this turn from spending our lives living like we’re going somewhere else, to spending it on loving this one instead, it will change us. It will allow us to enter into the type of life that we’ve longed for all along. It’s just that, surprise surprise, this incarnational move is one that also endures crosses.

Richard Rohr notes in Everything Belongs, that:

“You do not resolve the God question in your head – or even in the perfection of moral response. It is resolved in you, when you agree to bear the mystery of God: God’s suffering for the world and God’s ecstacy in the world. Agreeing to this task is much harder, I’m afraid, than just trying to be ‘good.’” pg. 17

So, if as I mentioned before, we can:

Move beyond moralism and learn to incorporate our failures into a holistic spirituality.

Turn towards focusing on this life, as does Jesus in the incarnation.

Then, we can face fully the mystery of God, which includes both our existential suffering and ecstasy.

This is a far better dualism than the good/bad scenario outlined above that causes us to divorce ourselves from our experiences. This, then, is what it is to be free. This is the grace of moving beyond trying for goodness. It is Love saturating every part of life. This is what it means to learn to say a great big fat yes to life: its love, complexity, mystery, and death; the whole damn thing. Our traditions should be the types of keys to existence that open us up to a deeper kind of humanness, one that doesn’t seek to escape the confines of this body, but one that learns to become comfortable in one’s own skin, with one’s own personality, with one’s own past, with an unknown future, but with a very real aim in the present. We’ve got to think in terms of allowing our presents to be oriented towards a greater capacity for loving and being loved.

This holistic, embodied, blossoming embrace of this life gives us the very gift of God in Jesus. It allows us to become true humanists! Whether your humanism is partially or completely secularized, I don’t have a lot of investment in, but the reality is, the Christian narrative truly does beget this embrace: this life matters. Humans matter. Matter matters. The whole world matters. But, more on that next week…the relational shift of looking outward, that is.

You see, what postmodernism gives us is the gift of lifting us up into the esoteric cloud of relativization…of deconstruction…of mystery, that has been a part of the Christian mystical tradition all along. And, it is quite the philosophical treat. But, what most people fail to do is to let it drop us harshly back to the ground. In other words, it’s important that we taste the mystery, become acquainted with it, but then it has to actually catalyze something in our own lives as it becomes embodied. We need to be reminded that it is something we must inevitably begin to practice. Rohr says that:

“The very best of modern theology is revealing a strong “turn toward participation,” as opposed to religion as mere observation, affirmation, moralism, or group belonging. There is nothing to join, only something to recognize, suffer, and enjoy as participant. You are already in the eternal flow that Christians would call the divine life of the Trinity.” –Falling Upward, pg. xi

This divine life is a saturation of this present existence with meaning and significance. It is a dispersing of the sacred into the whole of life. Shouldn’t this be the aim for all of us? To move from thinking of the sacred as something we solely encounter on a Sunday morning, in a specific piece of bread or cup of wine, or in the pages of our Bibles? Surely, those are all things that can also drip with divine life, but are they not meant to propel us to notice that every ordinary activity is imbued with it as well? Many non-Christians have a leg up on Christians because they have the ability to do this without the set of uniquely Christian stories, symbols, and sacraments. We Christians have a very specific task here: to learn to wield our specific set of stories, symbols, and sacraments for the purpose of opening up to this realization:

There is not something to achieve when it comes to our spirituality, no straight and easy path, no holier set of beliefs…there is only something to participate and delight in.

So then, this is why, when it comes to a lived-theology or a practice of Christian spirituality, I am such an advocate for things like contemplative prayer, silence, and solitude. They are “furnaces of transformation” that allow us to attune to that cycle of the universal center of our being that is present to God (both theist as presence, and post-theist as nowhere alike) in the here and now, which includes an acceptance of both brokenness and great joy. This is how we participate in what Christians call the divine life. There’s a reason that Christian spirituality moves paradigmatically from Word > Flesh > Dwelling Together. Our inner lives should propel us to fill our outer lives with a humanizing significance and inherent worth.

If we are to truly allow what has taken place within the Christian narrative to inform our lives and give content to our lived practices of faith, then it has to be a movement towards full humanness. We have to think in imaginative ways beyond binaries, for grace is universal and transcends our categories. We have got to become comfortable in allowing our lives, their pasts, our situational presents, and our futures to be surrendered, embraced and integrated into our stories. We can dream of a future, but we cannot live somewhere other than the present. We must endure the full gamete of human experience with the grace that can only come from saying yes to it all. That is not to say yes to injustice, but rather to say yes to that which we cannot change.

It is to say yes to life.

…yes in a way that inspires and energizes us to dive head-first into the mystery, squeeze all the juices from it, and live the hell out of it.

#GivingUp4Lent: Day 38 (The Theological > Theopoetic Shift)

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Hi Friends. Yes, I’m still “Giving Up for Lent,” and no posts these past few weeks has meant 2 things:

1) I’ve been busy with deadlines for other projects.

2) I’ve been processing a lot of this stage in my journey, and searching for words to articulate it.

These past weeks I have had the luxury of navigating the waters of life and faith without the tethers of the Christian religion and its frameworks and regiments, and there have been a few points of clarity that have helped give language to some things that have been stirring in me for some time. 3 weeks ago, I mentioned 3 shifts for the future of Christianity that arose out of this journey through “Giving Up For Lent.”

The first, and one that informs pretty much everything we endeavor toward in conversation together, is a linguistic transition from theological thinking and speaking about God solely in terms of “logos,” to rather speaking of God in terms of “poiesis.” This is what I mean when I advocate for: a “theopoetic” approach (surprise!) to theology. This approach sits in stark opposition to ways of reading and interpreting both the scriptures and the tradition that are attached to ideas like biblicism and fideism (more on this to come). It is a perspective that doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of a logos, but rather, acknowledges that whatever “that” is, we will not ever reach it by mere reflection and study.

In fact, “existence” is not always the qualifier by which we navigate the conversation, but as Caputo puts it, sometimes “insistence” is more helpful. As in, we may not be able to prove whether or not God exists, but we definitely know that God insists, or rather is an insistence of human experience, or possibly insistence itself. There are more radical branches of theology which aren’t really interested in acknowledging the “logos” or “word” itself at all, but the fascinating thing about the post-theist conversation (which I am a friend of) is that they, too, tend to stay rooted in the dialogue about this very topic. In short, God is always on their tongue, too. What we all can hopefully affirm together, is a rejection of all our conceptual ideologies when it comes to God for the sake of a multiplicitous dialogue on the subject, or “event” at hand.

Peter Rollins wrote in his book, How (Not) to Speak of God:

“Naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God.” (p. 2) He reminds us that Meister Eckhart similarly once claimed that, “The unnameable is omni-nameable.” (p. 13)

In short, our “belief” or our conceptual “naming of God” is always pestered and overthrown by our existence in a space “beyond belief” or beyond “substance ontology.” In fact, it seems that the concession made in this type of theopoetic discourse is important insomuch as it understands this very important facet in theology:

Our belief in a God is always undercut by the fact that whatever conceptual god we speak of is a construct that is fully and vulnerably mortal to the throws of our process…including some of our contemporary philosophical, scientific, and existential critiques.

Thus, “God” is just simply beyond our ability to ensnare godself in a modernistic or systematic enclosure, and is rather that which is always beyond our ability to conceive of it. For, as Eckhart once prayed:

“God, rid me of God.”

Or, “God, rid me of whatever I mean when I say, God.” Even the Evangelicals in the early 2000’s often sang, “Indescribable! Uncontainable!”, but then proceeded to tell you exactly what God was like. What I am advocating for is an anti-idolatry in line with the utmost biblical concept of the term. Embracing a theopoetics means many things, not the least of which are:

Multiplicity, Epistemic Humility, Creativity, Becoming, Dialectics, Mystery, Metaphor, Deconstruction, Radical Hermeneutics, and Interrelatedness.

And sometimes, maybe even Metaphysics…if you’re feeling advantageous.

This approach alleviates the desire within us to master the (or a) subject, here namely God, and also frees us from the more unhelpful temptations of the hermeneutics of the past couple centuries seen within fundamentalism and its neo-reformed cousins.

Now, for a short story:

I was in a conversation with a friend a while back about the topic of hell, when I proceeded to make an argument based upon the Greek text. My friend replied,

“But the KJV says this…”

To which I replied,

“Yeah, but the King James also translates some of the Hebrew text as ‘unicorns,’ so can’t you see that our translating of the words are always culturally constructed?”, assuming this would shut down that argument (see Numbers 23-34, Deut 33, Job 39, Psalm 22, 29, 92, and Isaiah 34 in the KJV if you don’t believe me).

To which, he replied cheekily, but earnestly, “Well…unicorns could have existed.”

To which I thought, “We’re clearly done here.”

This is an extreme example of what plays itself out in various forms of dialogue in the theological transition from a classical view of God to one that is post-classical. The point is, many Christians often allow the Bible to dictate an idolatrous form of God that they may cling to as Truth itself, instead of allowing the text to transcend a more unhelpful biblicism, and lead us to a hypertheistic/post-theistic dialogue or experience of God. By no means do I think that in these 1800 words or so I am tackling the subject of God, but rather, I do think that I am giving my readers the gift of freedom from a detrimental form of bibliolatry that keeps us from a more helpful Christian praxis.

Now that we’ve touched on biblicism, we need to understand that what this perspective often (but not always) begets, is a form of fideism. What is dangerous about fideism is that it causes Christians to embrace truths that often defy reason, experience, or especially: ethics. Grasping too tightly to a certain interpretation of the faith or scriptures can cause us to have to believe in a truth that no longer stands the test of contemporary science or philosophy. It can also cause us to fail to embrace our humanity and rather have to disavow our experience of the world, holding out for some “higher” or “other” existence. Or even worse, fideistic interpretations can lead us to believe terrifying things of God’s own morality, and both embrace and mimic an ethic ourselves that makes God out to be vengeful, jealous, angry, and morally inferior to us. Basically, all the things we’re not…supposed to be.

Theopoetics offers us a way of engagement with the tradition and its derivative theologies that is fully free and open to the endlessly cyclical process of deconstruction (and reconstruction) and deconstruction once again in the name of love. This theological shift, which really is a very linguistic, as in…words matter, turn of the 20th century, gives us possibility for the faith to be sustainable as we look ahead to the 21st. We must uphold beauty over truth, and let both goodness and truth be revealed in the process of getting into bed with the sublime charm of existence, and even the particularities of the tradition.

I know, I know. Particularities?

Yes.

Giving up on Christianity during Lent has actually led me to a place where I have grown to be even more comfortable with Christianity as a particularized form of religion, and have been able to dive in to all its points of engagement with a fresh set of eyes:

this Jesus, these disciplines or liturgies, this narrative, this Bible, this passage, this word and its root, this kind of theological language, all of it, ours.

It’s only in talking about the particulars that we get to the universals imbedded within this wonderful faith tradition. But, there are ways of engaging the particulars that are nearly more important that the particulars themselves. There is an orientation to the specifics and the histories that can give you the gift of freedom from their trappings and an openness to relate to the ways in which they have displayed both growth and transformation (which is a sign of maturity). This way, I believe, is a theopoetic posture. If what we often stir up in our God-talk is some sort of universal, whether it be: being, ground of being, impetus for an ethical existence, radical political critique, and the list goes on, then the only way to get at it is to embrace the particulars, to point to them, to speak of them, and to live into them. We do this all while now knowing what it means to exist after the death of God (the death of constructs, or as Rollins says: certainty and satisfaction) and to be able to look for the birth of God beyond our gods.

Certain versions of Christianity can lead us to a place which is exactly the opposite of adventure, exploration, and endless fascination with this complex world and its Great Traditions. It is precisely in the capsules of doctrine and language that we can lose the grandness of this whole thing if we’re not careful. In this kind system, those with a more poetic orientation and engagement with life are left feeling as dry as a rung-out sponge. It’s like sensing that you’re hard-wired to be an author, but being cursed with perpetually infinite writers block: knowing what you’re capable of, and being able to express none of it. And unfortunately, it’s in the words themselves that we can feel this prohibition.

…but it’s also in the words that we can be set free.

It’s how we understand their form and function that gives us the freedom to wield their power as a gift that opens us up to the tragic beauty of the world (which is that same offering extended in the Christian faith) rather than a system by which we believe we are in control and understand things “correctly,” and thus numb ourselves to the reality that this whole thing is somehow way beyond all of our articulations.

And yet, somehow, for many of us, we sense that it is at the same time worth the task of exegesis, of excavating reality…possibly even digging for life itself. And the secret to life is, there is no secret.

If it’s not Christianity that we engage, then we will just make meaning in some other story we tell ourselves, some other set of principles or ethics, and that will become our lens to mine the universal. We may even do so by being decidedly (not) Christian. That’s fine by me. I’m not writing for evangelism’s sake. And, I know first hand the experience of how harmful and damaging an aggressive and conquistadorian wielding of a particularized form of the Christian faith can be. What I’m saying is this:

There’s another way to engage it. It’s ok to dance with it.

There is a poetry to it, one that can inspire us to live both within it and beyond it all at once. It is undoubtedly a complete secularization, and it is undeniably a complete dispersing of its sacredness to the whole of life. The Christ-movement must necessarily lead us to places outside its own doors, to explore, to love outside its borders. Maybe it’s fitting that this coming Good Friday, we consider becoming comfortable with crucifying all of our gods for good. This holy week, maybe we may also learn then to search the specific rhythms, texts, and events of our faith tradition for that motive force that causes us to look beyond the particulars themselves for the Love that beckons us all toward one another…

That love that we often call God.

Or, that God that quite possibly is love.

Or that Love that calls us toward Love.

Whoa, one could get rapt in all this love-talk!

EXACTLY! Now you’ve got it.

#GivingUp4Lent: Day 14 (On Believing, Or Not)

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This past week, I was casually asked this question by several people who had read my last #GivingUp4Lent Blog:

“So, are you like, agnostic now, or something?”

My first response in my head is usually, “well aren’t we’re both likely agnostic on some level about most things?” But, obviously I know that the implied topic here is about God. Surely God, of all things, isn’t the one we humans have got completely nailed down. And so I thought it would be fitting to respond to that question by talking about the philosophy of belief here a bit before I move forward in addressing the three shifts in Christian theology I mentioned in my last post in the weeks to come. I’d like to mainly engage the conversation surrounding belief by interacting with some excerpts from Jack Caputo’s wonderfully poetic little book, Philosophy and Theology, where he engages the topic from a Derridian deconstructive lens. Firstly, he notes that:

“Kierkegaard says that he would never pretend to be a Christian, but at most profess trying to become one. Might it be that the best formula available to believers who are sensitive to the complex and multiple forces that are astir within us, as we all should be, is to claim that at most they ‘rightly pass’ for a believer? Is this not an excellent formula for whatever we believe or do not believe?” p. 63

Firstly, I’ll say that Kierkegaard’s play here is a compelling one. As I have given up being a Christian for Lent, I have noticed that much of what that means for me is really just stepping publicly into the place that I already was internally. And in terms of belief, that means moving into a space beyond putting my personal signature on doctrinal propositions or creedal affirmations. In a sense, it’s a place beyond believing. It’s an allegiance to something higher…to non-conformity, non-proposition, to full openness. Even the Bible says that Moses heard God’s name in Exodus 3:14 as:

“Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.”

It’s not, “I am who I am,” as many of us have heard. But rather, as ToJo’s translation suggests: “I will be that who I have yet to become.”

This openness I am describing is a shift toward a praxis of life which is concerned with something beyond ideological and (especially metaphysical) systems. I agree with Richard Beck’s thoughts here that the systems themselves are not something we believe in, but are rather tools and hypotheses. That is all. And I, too, am generally uninterested in determining which one is the “correct” one. In the aforementioned article, Beck does mention that if he had to say what he believed in, it would be that “God is love.” And, although it’s also probably my favorite thing to say about God, I think Caputo asks rightly in response:

“When someone says, ‘God is love,’ do they mean that ‘God’ is one of the best names we have for love? Or is it the other way around (and this is what Augustine would have asked): Is ‘love’ one of the best names we have for God? For Derrida there is an irresoluble slipping back and forth between these names and no place to stand that would give us the leverage to arrest this play.” pps. 62-63

My own contention would be:

Let’s just not expect to arrest this play between the two sides, but to instead rather let the play arrest us.

This is what I mean when I say that the poetics of the conversation is what inspires us toward hope, not the decision itself for either side. That generosity itself is a radical embodiment of love no matter where you may land on the question. There are many branches of the Christian faith that build walls around one side of that interplay, and I find those perspectives that do to be generally uncompelling in the postmodern situation. But to be fair, both the adamant hardline-theistic perspectives and the hardline-atheistic perspectives are sometimes unhelpful and often damaging fundamentalisms.

Though both sides are somewhat necessary to poke and prod at our complacent assumptions about “God,” the theopoetic sits somewhere in the midst of the tomfoolery, with propositions whizzing by from both camps. We listen intently to grasp what we may from the air and quickly fold it into some form of observable existential origami, which is always momentarily beautiful for display, but also always carried off by the wind…until the process is repeated all over again.

So, does this mean I am an atheist? An agnostic? A theist? The answer is unequivocably:

“Somedays.”

The question that divides itself into these three parties is itself displaying more competing forms of creedal affirmation. The agitation for most people who hear my response is that I actually seem to be comfortable with my reply! So then, why not just make a decision one way and say I…am…this? As Caputo says:

“Because that would be to arrest the play; it would have the self-assured ring of reductionism, the bluntness of nineteenth-century positivism…On the contrary, he thinks what we call the ‘I’ is implicated in a kind of conflict, of competing voices that give each other no rest, so that there is always an atheist within me who contests my professions of belief, just as there is always a believer within me who contests my professions of unbelief. That is why he says the name of God is the name of a secret that is withheld from him. Still, he ‘rightly passes’ for an atheist-by the standards of the local pastor or rabbi.” p. 63

Although I find the binary of atheist/theist mostly unhelpful, perhaps I too could pass for an atheist (or certainly an agnostic) by the standards of a rabbi or pastor who would not concede that “God” continues to change as humans evolve. For radical theologians, process theologians, theopoetics, atheists, agnostics, and even some others in the open/relational camp, the statement that God evolves in our minds is not a shocking one. They understand that this is not an ontological claim based on a brittle substance ontology. That would be a reductionism, and I am not really interested in living back in the 19th century. I’m actually glad to be alive in the 21st after the linguistic, or “postmodern” turn. Here, in our time, we get to peer into the depths of the realization that:

“Reason, science and philosophy, is not seeing all the way down, that it involves an ongoing faith and trust in its ensemble of assumptions and presuppositions…that enable us to make our way around.” p. 56

The key here is assumptions. That is what we are making. When we are participating in the discipline of theology, or “making claims about God,” we are always doing our best to make assumptions based on the evidences and experiences at hand, ones we fully expect to eventually slip from our grasp like sand through our fingers until the next handful of temporal truth can be dug up. This is just how life is. It changes. We no longer have to place the expectations of our life’s meaning upon reason, science, philosophy, or especially a particular religion or theology…because they all inevitably break under the weight. The admission of that reality also comes with the concession that all of the above disciplines are necessary conversation partners in an integral pursuit in which we press forward as non-reductive postmodern workers for the common good. For, as Caputo noted, these disciplines “enable us to make our way around.” They motivate us. They allow us to grow. They encourage us to dream.

So then, what of belief? What of faith?

“For Heidegger, if you are a believer, then you have decided to take an early retirement on thinking. You think you already have the answers to the sort of questions Socrates asked and you can’t play the game, or perhaps better, what philosophy you do will be just that, just a game you are playing, because you have the real answers up your theological sleeve. You start with the answer and retrofit it with a proof that will get you where you wanted to go all along.” pps. 7-8

Life, especially a life of faith, is absolutely an exercise in critical thinking and dreaming of a better future for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world (and I say this non-reductively, but to make a point about belief!). If we take an early retirement from thinking, then we do ourselves the disservice of living in the past. Belief in the 21st century cannot be talked about solely in such unnecessary binaries, but rather must be given the gift of freedom from these distracting divisions. For the survival of faith, and by that I mean in part the survival of hope for the human race on this very endangered planet, we must learn to exist in a register above belief and non-belief. We must disseminate our faith against all temptations to build walls of various forms.

That is not to say that one cannot believe, truly…in God…in something. That is to say that one must recognize what belief is in the here and now: more a faith in current assumptions (about the divine, for some) in an ever-evolving string of human hope that is expected to transmorph as it emerges.

So, am I agnostic? I’ll just say…

If I believe anything, it’s that sometimes my life passes for that of a believer.

But to the watching world, more often than not, it probably looks more like that of an unbeliever.

As a Christian who is no longer trying to be one, I can still partner with my friends in the tradition who pray in faith for Christ to come. But of course, what I mean by that, is something that is likely beyond belief.

***For a helpful espousal of Caputo’s anti-reductionistic thinking when it comes to the theism, atheism, agnosticism divide, see his response to the first question in this interview in the NY Times.

#GivingUp4Lent: Day 7 (Some Theological Self-Reflection & 3 Shifts for the Future)

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So, if you haven’t heard yet, I’ve given up for Lent. Meaning, I’ve given up trying to be a Christian in any way shape or form, and am instead just being myself for a while. Subsequently, my primary orientation as “Christian” is what I’m stuck with, and I am left reflecting upon and parsing out possible futures for my given theological narrative from the exterior. The benefit of doing this while “giving up” is that I am untethered to any form of Christianity itself – denominational, ideological, theological, or otherwise. That is, I am unregulated and fully free to let “God” as a being, construct, anthropomorphism, or any other spatter of devices lead me where it may. I am allowed to do theology (or not do theology at all if I don’t want to) from a completely different location, outside the box…one that has to answer to no authority except for the expounding of my honest experience, or sometimes lack thereof, of God, through my own unique interpretive lens. Take that Wesleyan quadrilateral!

Now, it must be said at the outset that, for this to truly be a giving up, nothing can be off the table, even more opulent notions like atheism. Let’s be honest, we’ve all at least had the experience of atheism on some days, have we not? In full disclosure, I don’t suspect atheism will be my own conclusion given my affinity for process philosophy and theology as a metaphysical possibility (I have already done much of the legwork in my own quest for God, and I suspect that, at this juncture, I won’t likely wander far from my own theopoetic/radical theological mishmash of Caputo’s insistence and a Whiteheadian metaphysic akin to Keller’s). However, I say that only to divulge that the theological endeavor is, and always will be for me, a relational exercise rooted in intellectual and existential honesty. Every question can, and must, be asked of the faith, if faith itself is to survive. And so I remain fully open to any postulation, and am always looking for friends and conversation partners in every camp.

I suppose in many ways that as I take on this “Giving Up For Lent,” I am mainly formalizing what has been a much longer journey of discernment into what bones are left to my Christianity after having walked away from so much of it. In essence, throughout my journey, I have already given up so much of what I used to hold to be true that it seems that what I’m left with is at the very least a progressive theistic form of the Christian faith, or at the very most, a hopeful secular-humanist tangential engagement with the Christian tradition and the historical Jesus. Whatever future distillation ends up giving form to my own theopoetic posture and relationship to the Christian faith moving forward, I am indeed, for now, situated at least on the outskirts (more likely way way outside the borders) of what used to be the hometown for this post-fill.in.the.blank 80’s child…estranged from many of the ideologies, theologies, and people that used be so familiar. But yet again, this is not a new development.

And so we take a brief intermission that is both a preface to the next 33 days of Lent, and a personal admission that I am unapologetically stealing and augmenting from one of Bo Daddy’s lines: When it comes to Christian theology and praxis, I admit that I am always moving towards the way, while fully acknowledging that that way is not my way. And boy, am I glad about that. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of investment in rightness. As Derrida’s deconstruction offers us, that pure form (of justice, there) is always beyond our grasp. So, let’s just say we’re heading after something together. And it likely isn’t my way of doing things, nor yours. Let’s inspire each other to something beyond our individual ways.

That said, I see this post (and really my own theological pursuit on the whole) as a response to the linguistic turn of the 20th century. From this point, if we cannot have a conversation about our interpretive pursuit going all the way down, especially in regards to the Bible, but also in the engagement of the contextual, chronology-bound theologies that have developed over the past 2000 years, then we cannot move forward. Meaning, if we cannot admit from the get-go that our allegiance to, and engagement with a certain text or doctrinal hypothesis always comes to us through a lens, a lens which is inseparably linked to each part of our own imbedded perspectives (which is no less true of the Biblical authors themselves and the later claims of special revelation imposed upon them), then I would be willing to bet that our conversation won’t go very far, nor will it be much of a dialogue. In short, if our a priori assumptions about the hermeneutical task are not in alignment, then this, in my experience, has been the breaking point. It’s rare that I encounter someone who disagrees with me on this one proposition, and is able to have a constructive dialogue about where the tradition heads from there…but I love those anomalies who break through my suspicions! It is, unfortunately, more often than not a very real fork in the road for the future of theology.

“But, isn’t this just classical liberalism?,” some might ask. For the sake of the future of millions of Emergence Christians, I genuinely hope it is not dismissed as such. For many conservatives, “liberalism” has been a dirty word that has no place in the dialectical theological environment. No doubt the linguistic turn in theology renders the tradition vulnerable to the repercussions of contemporary historical-critical scholarship, continental and post-continental developments in philosophy and psychoanalysis, current scientific exploration, and the list goes on. But necessarily so! These are inevitable evolutions in the progression of human consciousness and the unfolding of the Christian tradition. They are not exempt from, but are crucial to, its progress. The non-dismissive engagement of the reverberations of postmodernism will be essential for the future of churches and Christians everywhere. Like I said, I know this is nothing new, and I don’t have much investment in sustaining the future of the church structures as-is, but millions of future Emergence Christians’ ideological and practical health is at stake in this discussion. Hopefully we can learn together to let our words move toward becoming enfleshed in ways that will serve the next generation well.

As it is, I see three main spheres that need addressing, each of which pervades nearly every aspect of the discourse surrounding the Christian tradition and praxis. Over the remainder of Lent, I will parse out these radical (and yes I use that word intentionally!) shifts that may lead us to freedom from some of the more stunting developments in recent Christendom:

1) Theological – The linguistic shift away from a fideistic biblicism, and toward embracing a theopoetics.

2) Practical – The lived shift away from a dualistic moralism, and toward a holistically sacred humanism.

3) Relational- The social shift away from a tribalistic divisivism, and toward a mutualistic identity of benevolence.

What do all these istics and isms mean? Are they even real words? What are their implications for the future of the faith? Tune in to find out in weeks to come!

This Year For Lent, I’m Giving Up

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Well, yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and if you’ve been in conversation with any of your Christian friends about the ensuing Lenten season, then you know the first question they usually ask is:

Friend: “So…are you giving anything up for lent?”

This year, my response to that question will be a tad different than in years past:

Me: “Yeah. This year for Lent, I’m actually just giving up.”

Friend: “So…what are you giving up exactly?”

Me: “It’s not (what) I’m giving up. It’s that, this year, I’m giving up on the whole thing. I’m just going to stop trying for the entire 40 days.”

Last year around this time, my friend Bo and I chucklingly quipped about “giving up” for Lent instead of specifying a certain “thing” that we would give up for the year’s observance. This mostly resulted out of some difficult situations that had arisen in our lives, and, since it was sort of in jest, vowing to “give up” for the entirety of Lent never actually materialized (at least not publicly, ha). But this year, I am going to take action…or should I say, lose control.

Being a “Christian” continues to be overly complicated for us progressives. At the beginning of the year, I was let go from the PCUSA (now ECO) church that I had ministered at for the past 8.5 years; and it wasn’t because of my performance. Some of my own progressive theological convictions on core doctrinal issues, my theopoetic praxis of upholding the primacy of love, or my flat out denial of some unhelpful lines of thinking, have likewise led to some very difficult and emotionally exhausting conversations with beloved people from my old tribe. I also have friends who have recently endured heresy trials, lost their ministry jobs, had their denominations pull support, and it seems that most of my conversations with people who are still in ministry revolve around their continued frustration and disappointment with the institution of Christianity’s response to their own emergence and call. I know that this is partially contextual, with Orange County being a conservative hotbed, but I also know that, even here, the 40ish and under crowd of up and coming ministers has little investment in continuing to purport that same treatment to, and cultivate stunted dialectical environments for, future Emergence Christians.

Tripp and Bo over at Homebrewed Christianity discuss what we often encounter in the progressive/fundamentalist dialogue at length in this podcast (beginning at 35:11), and, although I always try to uphold working for oneness in those types of situations, I regrettably sentimentalize in my own experiences with their distinction that these two vastly different forms of the faith are actually more divided than not. With such stark polarization in certain spheres of the conversation, it’s no wonder that my wife and I feel somewhat exiled from the faith we grew up with, and the migration that we are on is still very much so in process…a process that needs space and freedom for exploration. Accompanying these sorts of life transitions can be much theological, ideological, and ethical deconstruction and metamorphosis, the kind which, at least initially, usually feels much more like loss and death than it does growth or life. Problem is, there really aren’t a lot of landing pads for people like us.

And so I think I’m just going to give up trying to be a Christian for Lent. I think am just going to be myself. And give up on trying for anything beyond that.

Ash Wednesday is the perfect spark for this kind of giving up, not the giving up of some-thing, just the giving up of trying…or a dying to the whole system. Most people’s Lenten fasts are centered around something like sweets, alcohol, exercising more (is that a fast?); basically things that can marginally improve their lives by the time they hit Easter. My friend Phil, a local Episcopalian priest, said yesterday during an Ash Wednesday Eucharist that, “Lent is about self-awareness, not self-improvement,” and if I know anything about myself today, it’s that I find my Christianity to have been loosed from the chains of the system, or maybe diffused from it would be better phrasing. And I’m looking forward to just being for a while, to stop participating in manufactured divine experiences, commoditized relationships, and worries about what our future spiritual community will be. Right now, I’m not looking for one. I’m not looking to “do life” with people. Who ever thought up the idea that life or spirituality was something we “did” anyways? Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we are alive and breathing already, and when we are doing that with others around, there is already inherently a conspiracy, one that doesn’t necessarily need to be curated.

If this “giving up” for some reason organically leads me to a Eucharist, to crack a Bible, to study theopoetics, to pray to God, to have an intentional conversation, basically to any particularized form of something that might be easily filed under “faith,” “discipline,” or “liturgy,” then so be it. I’m cool with my sacred canopy, especially Jesus! But this Lent, I am taking a stand against necessitating any form of it. I am giving up all of the separation, dualism, division, false binary, argument, and any of their relatives. I am dispersing the sacred into the whole of life. I’m going integral. I am running from the veil of control I sometimes seek when it comes to the life of faith.

Richard Rohr once said:

“Secularism is the definite and inevitable child of Christianity.”

Maybe this experiment is a full immersion into that, too. An immersion into receiving as a posture of life. To looking for unordered opportunities to pass love along. To even finding God if God pops up somewhere unexpected. I’m giving up so that my posture in this Lenten season will be fully free from obligation, necessity, trying, and expectations; and rather fully given over to letting go and waking up. For now, I’m done trying to appease, apologize, prove myself, routinize my days, hide parts of me…to squeeze myself into places that I clearly don’t fit anymore.

In short, I’m done trying too hard to be a Christian. I’m giving up.

If you’d like to follow along with my Lenten journey of “giving up,” I’ll be posting weekly blog updates here at atheopoetic.com through Easter, or you can follow me on twitter @timothytalk for more blather.

A Theopoetic’s Manifesto (Charlatans Indeed)

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Dreaming is encouraged when we’re young. Almost required. And no, I don’t mean any of that night-dreaming mischief, but rather that dreaming-during-the-day kind of magic. Finger-paints, sing-a-longs, pop-up-books, frol-ick-ing; these construct the very substance of childhood, and alive a child can become if he is encouraged to be. I know I was, once. And because of that, I have an almost spiritual connection with the term “imagination,” the Beatles’ Love Me do, parks and peanut butter sandwiches, and talking felt. Also,

Crayons,

Clarinets,

Where the Sidewalk Ends…or does it?

I could speak languages then that I can no longer speak: the tongues of melody, of make-believe, the very mouthpieces of God. In those days, ebony notes darted to-and-fro with wings strapped to their backs. But somewhere along the way, I lost the eyes to see them amuse one another, to play with them…or maybe I just need to find Joe Smith’s super special glasses or something. Where did it go? My vision, my hope, my dreams, that is.

Had they become entranced by those black-and-white times tables? Or was I bewitched under the spell of Sunday/School? Was it that suppressed kind of sexuality that only those young Christians know so well? Or maybe, it was that baseball coach who told me not to cry anymore…

“Shriek a voluminous primal Viking yell,” he said. “You’ve got to stop being so.”

“Well, on the field as it is in heaven,” I said.

I grieved by draping flanks of Veracity and victory over the skeleton of my youth, working toward a sturdier frame to carry that sinew of life-after-baseball, a life after, dreams. No longer soft, but now toned, steadied by the faith of empires and empiricists. Funny thing is, a body like that leads you to disavow your own embodiedness. Oh but if we could just run from our humanity, we wouldn’t have to invade both flesh-and-blood! We could just let Jesus be the fully human one so we don’t have to be, right? Nah.

It has taken me years to come back around to dreaming, to look it in the face, to let it stare back, to rememory it. In many ways, it has taken me leaving home. Make no mistake, I am not attempting to conjure up some kind of nostalgia here, nor is it a return to innocence. I have begun to dream again, however, but not thanks to prescriptions or propositions. I have found what I was looking for in the philosopher, the poet, the prophet. One might even say that this is what I mean by the theologian: that philosophizing, poetic, prophet. I certainly do not mean that type of theologian, those patrollers of minutia, those parsers of speculation.

I mean that type of theologian: the one whose words become a sort of lyrical baptism. You know, with water, fire, truth that soaks through to the marrow.

It’s my contention that, at its best, speaking of God should be poetry, or at the very least, poetic. Poetry is that universal language beyond language. It scrapes and digs at that deep, communal, preeminent voice. It punctures the heart first, and calls the head to descend that worthy descent into alignment. Honest writing must feel a lot like glossolalia, I’d imagine; that mystical tapping into some deeper Word beyond words, with its esoteric cloud-enshrouding-consciousness, probing it to spill over and whet the page, drenching it with the honor that can only come from speaking one’s truth. Ah yes, let’s do poetry.

Theology should also be prophecy, or at the very least, prophetic. That is, it must move forward. It must be deconstructive. Nothing can be off the table. It musk be risky. It must innovate. It must dream. No, it has to dream. It must, as Kurt Vonnegut says, exist on the edge, because

“Out on the edge you can see all sorts of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed of things – the people on the edge see them first.”

All this God-speak must be brimming with possibility and potentiality, it must move toward “justice,” toward “unity.” And yes, I mean that in the Derridian sense. Love must be its base stream, after all, it is our beginning and it will be our end.

So, let us move beyond language as a container for God (for not unlike ashes, its interpretation falls all the way down), but still with language, let us stir something up in our persistence to speak in ways that are charged with a radical embracing of this life, of that life (the other), and not necessarily after-life. Let us be pioneers, heretics, and soothsayers, for charlatans indeed we all are in this conversation. Let us do whatever it takes to contribute, listen, and learn from the poetics of this wonderful multiplicity of God-gossip. And, let us be seduced into a romance by that event harbored within the name of those three letters: that spectral call to more, to be, to become, and to hope.